Three women staff gardening in MH England

Gifts From Lady Poverty

by Cheryl Ann Smith

In our Madonna House community at large, we decided to read and pray more this year on our promise of poverty. I’m not sure what I was expecting: perhaps a sharpened focus, an affirmation of what we are living. Instead, the journey immediately took us to the depths of our own poverty, helplessness and need, and our fear of such need.

For our reality is that we at MH England are poor. Let me share three areas with you: numbers, gardening, and money

A year and a half ago, our male staff worker Patrick McConville, was transferred to Combermere, and for the first time since this house opened, we didn’t have a brother on staff.

None of the four of us (Emily, Christine, Nikola and I) had much experience with the care of cars, buildings, or vegetable gardens, and none of us had the strength to push our decrepit lawn mower around our immense yard. We were poor.

When Lady Poverty offers a gift though, it always leads to riches of another kind. I went over to our neighbour June’s house, where her gardener and friend, Richard, was labouring in her garden, and I asked for advice about where to begin with the spring preparations for the garden.

I only asked for advice, but he offered to “get us sorted”. The following week, Richard toiled all day in a storm to work the soil. He bought us vegetable seeds and planted them in a parishioner’s greenhouse, and that parishioner offered us a donation towards hiring Richard’s help and expertise.

In our need, we gained these two friends, and our poverty was turned into riches.

A year later, Christine was transferred. We are now only three women, and so we are very poor in terms of womanpower.

We decided to rise earlier and pray an extra half hour of adoration before Lauds (morning prayer). That full hour of silent surrender to God is drawing us closer to each other, to God and to the people we serve.

There were other fruits of our stripping as well: each of us has to give everything, communicate constantly, take on “the whole”, work and move together, change expectations and even hopes.

Lack of money? God has allowed us to face “astronomical” car and immigration costs along with a diminishment of donations. We can no longer pay for Richard’s help, and we are looking for other areas to trim back (although I must admit, it’s hard to see where). We’ve had to deeply surrender to this stripping, trusting in God’s loving providence.

This is the glory of our Madonna House way of life, and we sense that we will be humbled and grateful to see how He takes care of us. Perhaps we will see this more clearly than if we had enough money to provide for our own needs.

Or as Sara put it so eloquently, “The image that comes to me from this time of less is that of an open door and an invitation: to try new things, to be creative, to talk about who we are and what we are doing here. If I have all I want, then there is no push for me to change or to look at things in a new way”.


I wrote the above during a poustinia day in which I was struggling mightily to abandon myself in trust of God’s providence in the midst of our need. When I came back to the house, I heard that our prayers were being answered already.

A parishioner who loves the beauty and availability of our garden had phoned and insisted on paying Richard to continue his work. He understands that this garden is a treasure for the consolation of many.

Since then, we have been enveloped by the love and support of so many. We are not alone and God loves us through them.

Here are some other examples: I found myself in Whitby (a nearby town) one day, desperate for a cup of coffee. I’d been to Mass; I’d run errands and now was early for a funeral service.

Suddenly, my feet led me to the rectory door, where I boldly asked our parish priest if I could make myself a cup of instant coffee. As we chatted, Fr Pat asked what we needed. I begged prayers for our financial situation, and he suggested I ask X for help. I did and she responded. Guidance through caffeine hunger!

A couple of weeks later, I jokingly asked another friend if he knew a used car salesman nearby with the kind of car we could run more cheaply. He did know! And within a couple of days, we put a down payment on a cheaper-to-run car.

Then we wondered how on earth we could clean the outside of our windows on our three-story house. Two 20-year olds from Canada stayed with us for a week, and one of these young lads does this kind of work for a living. In a flash, the work was done!

All in all, Lady Poverty has given us many graces—including that of leading me to repentance for my lack of faith and a marvelling at how God does provide for us.